Bulls

Multiple options have emerged at the wing for Thibodeau

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Multiple options have emerged at the wing for Thibodeau

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has one of those good kind of problems right now.

With the return of shooting guard Rip Hamilton to the lineup after missing nearly a month with a torn left plantar fascia, the Bulls suddenly have a crowded wing rotation, after reserves Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler both emerged as reliable options during the veterans absence, not to mention the fact that league minutes-per-game leader Luol Deng rarely leaves the court.

MORE: No contact yet, but Rose returns to practice; set to travel with Bulls

Saturday night, it worked out for Thibodeau, as Belinelli led the Bulls in scoring while Hamilton worked his way back into the lineup and with Deng, coming off a sprained right ankle suffered in the teams Christmas Day loss to Houston, having an off night, Butler picked up the slack down the stretch by bringing his typical energy and timely shot-making ability.

But Belinelli, who was consistently solid in Hamiltons absence, was the story Saturday, as he seamlessly adjusted to coming off the bench again.

Marco was terrific. Hes been playing well for a long time now. Big shots, big plays, said Thibodeau, who noted that he wasnt sure yet about whether Belinelli would remain a backup, adding that Were going to go back and forth with that.

I think its his confidence. When youre new to a team, I think he was trying to fit in, trying to learn the system, but hes already proven to be a good player in this league, so you knew it was a matter of time, the coach continued. Once he had a better understanding of his teammates and his teammates had a better understanding of him, hes very good. He can score a lot of different ways. He can score in catch-and-shoot, he can score in pick-and-rolls, he can score in transition, he can make plays, so well try and use him a lot of different ways, but I think hes a lot more comfortable. So therefore, hes a lot more aggressive.

Belinelli himself added: I think just aggressiveness. I came on the court in the first quarter and I tried to bring to the team a little bit of energy on defense and offense, and I think tonight was good.

I think it was more important to get confidence in my shots, the shooting guard, who indicated he didnt care whether he started or came off the bench, as long as he got ample playing time, went on to say about his improved play since struggling early in the season. He was a little bit nervous, not too much confidence in myselfwhen you play a lot, when youve got some plays for you like pick-and-rolls, floppy down when you can create something for your teammates and you win the game, you feel good, so right now my confidence is okay.

Hamilton was supportive of Belinelli afterwards, suggesting that as a shooting-guard tandem, the duo could be an effective two-man platoon.

MORE: Hamilton makes his return to Bulls' lineup

Im going to put pressure on him to continue to play that way because we need him. We need every guy on this team, he explained. I always say when youre going to a team and youre doing a scouting report, and you say, All right, this is the guy thats starting and this is the guy thats coming off the bench, and you know youve got to put out a whole lot of effort against the guy thats starting and the guy thats coming off the bench, sometimes you can relax. I dont want that to be with us. When we go out and play, the guy thats guarding us, thats out on the floor, has to worry about both of us.

I think with him, everything has to do with confidence. It was opportunity for him to have to look over his shoulder, not knowing when hes going to come out. It was an opportunity where he was thrown out there and it was like, Okay, youre going to play. Regardless of if you make mistakes or you do well, youre going to play because we need you.

As far as Deng, the All-Star small forward said his ankle felt good afterwards and didnt take offense at the fact that Butler, his understudy, finished the game in his stead.

I really didnt mind. It happens, he said. Jimmy came in and did a good job.

Thibodeau added: It was just the way the game was going. I thought Jimmy gave us some energy and right now, were playing low energy, so I thought that energy was something we needed. His defense was very good and I thought Lu played well. Its just the way that group was going, we just rode it out.

Butler understands that he could be the odd man out on certain nights, now that Hamilton is back and Belinelli will take up the majority of the remaining shooting-guard minutes, leaving him with Dengs leftovers, of which there arent many on a regular basis.

RELATED: Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

But the Marquette product is determined to stay consistent and at least on Saturday, he felt Good, knowing you can give Lu a break, for one. Hell, he plays damn near 48 minutes every night, so I know hes happy about it over there, soaking in his ice bath, but it feels good to go out there and play, and have him coach me up from the sideline.

One night I could see this many minutes, the next night, this many minutes. It all depends on how hes feeling and how things are going within the game, he continued. It definitely is, but I feel like my name will get called eventually. I know that. Well, I cant say I know that for a fact, but Im hoping it does and when it does, go out there, play hard, make a few shots and guard.

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

The Bulls ‘rebuild’ seems to be just a one-year experiment after the team signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40-million dollar deal on Saturday. Although on first look Parker’s contract would seem to restrict what they can do in free agency next summer, the reality is that the 2nd year team option gives the Bulls plenty of flexibility with—or without- Parker next year.  

If the Bulls pick up the option on Parker, they will still be able to sign a max free agent next July if they make the right moves between now and July 1, 2019.

The NBA projects the 2019-20 cap will rise to $109 million, up from $101.9 million for the upcoming season. The league bases a ‘max’ salary on years of service. A 10-year vet like Kevin Durant is eligible for more ($38.2 million) than his teammate Klay Thompson ($32.7 million), an 8-year vet. If the Bulls keep Parker, they’ll enter free agency with approximately $15.4 million next summer—far short of the cap space needed for a player like Durant or Thompson, but that number is misleading. The $15.4 million also includes cap holds (salary slots assigned to a player based on several factors including previous year’s salary). The cap hold is designed to prevent teams from completely circumventing the soft cap model the league uses. The cap holds for Bobby Portis ($7.5 million) and Cameron Payne ($9.8 million) are just theoretical if the Bulls don’t sign either to a contract extension before the October 31, 2018 deadline. 

Let’s say the Bulls are in line to sign a star free agent like Thompson; all they would need to do is rescind any qualifying offer to Payne or Portis, and then renounce them as free agents. This would effectively take the cap holds off the Bulls’ cap sheet and give them approximately $32.7 million in cap space. Coincidently (or perhaps it’s no coincidence), that’s the exact salary a 7-9 year free agent like Thompson would command.

In order to create enough space for Durant and his increased ‘max’ slot, they would need to waive and stretch a player like Cristiano Felicio or incentivize a trade involving a player by attaching another asset in the deal, like a future 1st round pick.

If the Bulls decline the team option on Parker, then they will enter free agency with anywhere between $35 million and $53 million. 

Gar Forman finally comes through on promise

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USA TODAY

Gar Forman finally comes through on promise

"We felt we needed to start getting younger and more athletic..."

It was 2016 when Bulls general manager Gar Forman made this statement, drawing ire from many Bulls fans for what felt like—at the time—a disingenuous statement. A swap of Derrick Rose for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant making you younger and athletic? No one was buying it.

But fast forward to July, 2018, and it is clear that at the very least, Forman has finally made good on his promise. The signing of Jabari Parker has been met with mostly positivity, as a short-term commitment to a former No. 2 overall pick is something that is difficult to hate. But when you factor in the rest of the pieces currently on the roster, it is OK for Bulls fans to be downright giddy over the future.

Lauri Markkanen is 21 years old, Wendell Carter Jr. is 19, Zach LaVine is 23, Jabari Parker is 23 and Kris Dunn is the elder statesmen of the group at 24 years old. If these five become the starting group moving forward, as expected, it would represent one of the youngest starting groups in the league with an average age of 22. 

And athleticism can be checked off the list as well. We know Markkanen has hopsLaVine showed off the explosiveness he was known for last season and Dunn had some dunks last year that legitimately gave fans a Rose flashback

Markkanen and Carter Jr. have both flashed the ability to switch onto guards for a limited amount of time and guard in space, a huge component of any defense that wants to switch a lot. And it also is the type of athleticism that is much more important at their position.

At this stage, Parker represents the biggest question mark athletically speaking. Despite his young age, the two ACL injuries make you wonder if there is any room for him to improve his agility. But at the least, Parker can drive to the basket and finish over the top with authority, even if his defense doesn't catch up.

So, Bulls fans are starting to become intrigued with this roster.

Fred Hoiberg wants his teams to play an up-tempo game, and last season was the first year during Hoiberg's Bulls tenure where the team actually ranked in the top 10 in pace. So if you have followed the Bulls carefully since Thibodeau's departure, you see a front-office that supports their new head coach, yet wasted a couple years to commit fully to his vision, and to a direction for the franchise.

But the point is Forman finally chose a direction.

The Bulls have a young core, and financial flexibility moving forward. And for all the jokes the "GarPax" regime have endured over the years, they have put the team in a position to have sustained success if they hit on all the young players they have acquired. 

And if they are wrong in their assessment of their young talent? 

The Bulls would be able to let Parker go, now that we know the second year of his contract is a team option. LaVine's offensive skill set will allow him to still have trade value years from now, as his contract won't look nearly as bad over time. 

And if the Bulls flurry of moves make the team significantly worse in a year where many expect them to take a step forward, all it would mean is being equipped with a high lottery pick in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy 2019 NBA Draft.

So Gar Forman wanted the team to get younger and more athletic, and though it took longer than it should've, the front-office made good on their promise. That is something that Bulls fans can believe in.